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Sequel to High Court conviction of Prabhakaran
LTTE seeks war crimes amnesty
Anthony David reporting from Nakhon Pathom, Thailand
Tamil rebels want war crimes pardoned on the grounds that they were committed during a war situation in the country.

The demand came in the wake of the High Court judgement sentencing Tamil rebel chief Velupillai Prabhakaran for 200 years after being found guilty in absentia for the Central Bank bombing which claimed the lives of 91 people.

LTTE Political Secretary S. P. Thamilchelvan reacting to the sentencing of Mr. Prabhakaran said that war crimes committed during the past should be pardoned as they were committed during a different situation.

Mr. Thamilchelvan was entrusted with the task of lodging a strong protest to the government about the judgement delivered on Thursday. Accordingly, when peace talks opened for the second day on Friday he raised the matter.

"We are shocked by the judgement. It will disturb the peaceful atmosphere under which the talks are taking place," he said. "Our leader has been sentenced for 200 years, but if we try the former government leaders in our courts we may have to sentence them for 2000 years," Mr. Thamilchelvan said.

"During the past few years of 'state terrorism' many Tamil civilians have been killed. Therefore, action should be taken against the government as well," he said.

Mr. Thamilchelvan did not specify what further action they proposed to take regarding the matter, but the LTTE has told him to follow up the matter with the government.

LTTE chief negotiator Anton Balasingham earlier reacted sharply to the judgement delivered in Colombo saying it was 'absurd and ridiculous'. Mr. Balasingham said that when the matter was raised with the government delegation, he was told that the government had nothing to do with the matter as it was a court decision.

"We were told that there is no connection between the judgement and the government," he said. "However, the court is part of the government and they could have avoided this situation. The Sri Lankan government has also committed a number of crimes in the past," he said.

"I think it is a ridiculous judgement when both parties are engaged in a peace process. The passing of a 200-year sentence itself is an utter absurdity. As far as we are concerned, there have been incidents in the past which we consider as acts of war in the totality of the armed struggle against the state. Similarly the Sri Lankan government has also committed acts of violence and that all can be characterized as war crimes. So now both the parties have forgotten the past and are engaged in a constructive peace process," Mr. Balasingham said.

"We are hurt and deeply disappointed over the judgement at this juncture, which might undermine the spirit of the peace process," he said.

However, he said it would not affect the peace process, though the spirit of the process would be affected. Mr. Balasingham said they had strongly advised the government to refrain from taking such action.

The head of the government delegation, Minister G.L. Peiris and other members down played the court ruling saying it would not affect the peace process adding that the "very fact they are continuing the peace process is a sign that it has not affected the peace talks".

The LTTE in the past few months has been carrying out a vigorous campaign to secure the release of its members held in custody under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and accordingly hundreds of persons held in custody based on their own confessions have been released.

The international media have been focusing more on the verdict than the other issues which are being discussed during the current peace process.

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